Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 9 December 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions
Public Sector Recruitment Panels: Public Appointments Service
Before we commence, I remind everybody present to ensure their mobile telephones are turned off to prevent interference with the sound system. The purpose of today's meeting is to discuss protocols and procedures in regard to the establishment and management of recruitment panels by the Public Appointments Service, PAS. I am pleased to welcome Ms Fiona Tierney, chief executive officer of PAS; Mr. Niall Byrne, head of State boards division and corporate services; and Ms Margaret McCabe, head of recruitment and selection. I thank the delegates for forwarding their presentation, which has been circulated to members.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Ms Fiona Tierney:
I thank the committee for its invitation to attend. I will discuss how the Public Appointments Service, PAS, manages recruitment panels. By way of assisting the committee, I will read an opening statement, which briefly explains the functions of PAS, sets out some background detail as to our current levels of activity, explains the general process regarding the management of recruitment panels and outlines how PAS makes decisions as regards the operation of specific recruitment panels.
PAS was established under the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004. The Act also established the Commission for Public Service Appointments, CPSA, which acts as the licence-granting authority for relevant public service recruitment bodies. The commission is the regulator overseeing relevant public sector appointment processes and also publishes statutory codes of practice governing recruitment process to which licensees, such as PAS, must adhere. Under sections 33 and 34 of the Act, PAS was established to act as the centralised recruitment, assessment and selection body for the Civil Service and other public service bodies. Under the Act, PAS is empowered to carry out all the procedures necessary to undertake the recruitment, assessment and selection of suitable candidates for appointment and, in so doing, to determine the criteria for selection and the form of selection process to be adopted in accordance with the principles of the Act and the CPSA code of practice. PAS is independent in the exercise of its functions and, in recognition of this independence, is in receipt of its own Vote, for which I am the Accounting Officer. PAS has a staff of 127 civil servants, comprising 115 full-time equivalents, and its budget 2015 is €8.9 million.
PAS undertakes recruitment activities across a wide range of roles and on behalf of a diverse range of public bodies. PAS recruits for the Civil Service, the Health Service Executive, local authorities, the Garda Síochána and a wide range of other public bodies. In recruiting for these organisations, PAS recruits to: top and senior management positions; senior specialist positions; medical consultant positions; middle management positions; Garda Síochána trainee positions; graduate and technical positions; and clerical and other entry positions.
During 2015, PAS will have run 430 recruitment campaigns, processed more than 55,000 applications, interviewed 7,600 people and recommended 4,300 people for appointment. Since November 2014, PAS also has responsibility for the operation of the revised process for making appointments to State boards. As a public service body, PAS is committed to the highest standards of merit-based recruitment practice and to maintaining a high level of compliance with the CPSA codes of practice, as mentioned earlier. In addition, PAS is very conscious of the general requirements on public bodies to act in ways that are fair, consistent and in accordance with good administrative practice. PAS operates within a strict legal and regulatory framework to safeguard the core principles of Civil Service employment which have played such an important role since the foundation of the State in ensuring that successive Governments have benefited from the advice and support of an impartial, committed and politically-neutral civil and public service, often during periods of acute economic and political challenge.
PAS prides itself on the delivery of a client-focused and candidate-centric recruitment and selection service. The values underpinning our work are those of openness, transparency and the making of merit-based appointments. In addition, PAS has a strong track record of independence and integrity in its work for both clients and candidates. One of the challenges for PAS in running a complex and multi-level recruitment service on the scale I have indicated, is to ensure that the principle of fairness is maintained while also recognising that a one-size-fits-all process is unlikely to be appropriate across a recruitment landscape encompassing, for example, Secretaries General, consultant psychiatrists, meteorologists and Garda trainees.
PAS has a process in place for the management of recruitment panels, as follows. First, a recruitment competition is organised and advertised based on a client request and the appropriate sanction being in place. The vast majority of recruitment competitions are open competitions, which means applications are invited from any candidate who believes he or she meets the selection criteria. While a vacancy might arise in a specific office, applications are not confined to a specific office. People can apply from outside the civil and public service or across different sectors of the public service. Next, a panel is formed following the final, competitive, stage of a selection process. The intention to form a panel will have been communicated to candidates during the advertising stage of the process. The panel is the order of merit at the outcome of a recruitment competition. Placement on a panel is not a guarantee of appointment to a position.
PAS adheres to the highest standards of confidentiality in managing candidates' personal data and panels are confidential. When a suitable vacancy arises, the client contacts PAS to notify it and candidates are assessed against the relevant criteria for actual appointment. This process is known as “clearance”. Acceptance or rejection of an offer of appointment will generally lead to a candidate being removed from the panel.
Panels of suitable candidates are most commonly established for roles where multiple appointments are anticipated. Panels are dimensioned based on the expected demand for appointments. While adequate size of panel is important, so too is ensuring panels are not so large that people feel they are left languishing on panels with no reasonable prospect of appointment. Short panels may also be formed for more specialised, senior or one-off type appointments in order to provide for the possibility of the first placed candidate rejecting the offer of appointment. Typically, panels are active for 12 to 18 months and are normally closed when a newly established panel supersedes, unless particular circumstances of the campaign dictate otherwise. In the interests of maintaining reasonable flexibility, there is not generally a predetermined closing date for a panel. The exception is some internal campaigns confined to civil or public servants where an expiry date would be set by Civil Service management and would be stated in the relevant circular.
I will outline how PAS makes decisions regarding the management of specific panels. As stated, PAS provides recruitment services across diverse categories of roles and positions and, in doing so, liaises with a wide range of employing authorities in a client-focused, professional and confidential manner.
Client expectations and demands require careful management in a resource constrained environment. Given this circumstance, PAS must carefully manage and schedule its work to meet the expectations of these stakeholders while also maintaining its compliance with the codes of practice and fulfilling its significant duties to candidates.
As chief executive and the licenceholder from the Commission for Public Service Appointments, I am ultimately responsible for determining the life cycle of a panel, having taken a range of relevant factors into account. They include the level and specialisation of the post; changes in the job or in eligibility requirements since the last competition from which a panel was formed; the resources invested in generating the panel; the number of people placed on the panel; the numbers appointed from, and remaining on, the panel; the age of the panel; the number of new potential candidates entering the field since the panel was formed; and the degree of urgency in filling a position.
While there is a high degree of standardisation in PAS processes, I do not believe it would be appropriate to have a single operating template for all panels given the range, level and variety of positions being filled. I am informed that the Civil Service Commissioners of Northern Ireland adopt a similar position, in that 12 months is the general life of panels but there are exceptions to this general rule whereby some panels have lasted significantly longer.
Where a candidate is unhappy with any aspect of his or her interaction with PAS, we have a number of routes through which we accept complaints and feedback. Our targets for customer complaints are set out in our customer service action plan. I believe our record in responding to queries, feedback and complaints is a positive one and accords with our stated values and principles. In the case of a candidate who is unhappy with any aspect of a campaign, there is a formal appeal procedure in accordance with sections 7 and 8 of the CPSA code of practice. Candidates are, of course, also at liberty to raise issues, as appropriate, with the Ombudsman, the Equality Tribunal, the Equality Authority, the Workplace Relations Commission, the Freedom of Information Commissioner, the Data Protection Commissioner or the courts. PAS also has in place a published policy for the management of panels within our organisation which is widely available to all staff on our intranet.
I assure the committee that the Public Appointments Service is committed to high standards in all of its recruitment work, which includes the management of recruitment panels. Should there be any matters relating to panels which the committee believes PAS should address by way of continual improvement, I will certainly give these my full consideration. I trust this statement is of assistance to the committee and I am happy to discuss any issues arising.
I join the Chairman in welcoming the panel. Would the witnesses bring a different view to bear on the operation of panels, their lifespan and duration at times when there is a moratorium on recruitment in the public sector, as was the case for a number of years?
Ms Fiona Tierney:
The moratorium from which we are just emerging effectively meant that no appointments were being made from any panels. Although I was not working in the Public Appointments Service at the time, there were quite a number of panels created from competitions back in 2008 and early 2009 from which very few appointments were made because no positions were coming up to be filled. This is a good example to give the committee some knowledge of how it might work. Imagining that a competition was held in 2008 and appointments made in 2009 under whatever sanctions were still in place, and then that no further appointments were made until 2013 or 2014 when the moratorium was eased, there would not have been further appointments made from that panel. It would never have been closed but a new competition would have superseded it. For example, in almost every grade in the Civil Service there has been an open competition over the past 12 or 18 months from which panels have been created. Many new people might have expressed an interest and wanted to compete but might not have had the time or opportunity to do so back in 2008.
I thank Ms Tierney for her comments. I have a number of questions. I find it odd that there is no onus on the PAS or the body for which it is recruiting to inform existing panel members that a panel is closed or a new one has been formed. That should be looked at either by the PAS or somebody else. I know of cases in which people, perhaps wrongly, presumed they were on a panel, only to find that a panel had superseded them. One such person was in RTE and should have reasonably expected that the panel was closed as they had been on it for four years at that stage. They lived under a presumption.
Is it best practice that panels should be closed? If there were ten positions on a panel and it lasted 12 months, applicants would know that if they did not get the position and another one came up within 12 months, they would be considered for it. Is that best practice or just a case-by-case position?
A substantial number of job applicants have gone through the PAS offices in the past year; 55,000 applications is a substantial number, and that is without the embargo on all positions having been lifted fully. Under 10% of those applicants end up going on. Is it just the quality of the applications and CVs? Are people who have applied for the wrong position excluded from being interviewed? I have sat on one or two interview panels where I have been handed papers and had to score out of ten and whatever. Is it a similar marking system for the interviews? Does the Irish language come into it? We had occasion here to begin some work on the Irish language component of selection processes within the Civil Service.
Ms Fiona Tierney:
The point the Deputy raises around telling candidates that a panel is closed is an interesting one. Just to let the Deputy know, we do not recruit for commercial semi-State bodies like RTE so that would not have fallen within our remit at all. To be honest, with a panel that lasts for four years, if no appointment has been made from it and there is no really good reason to keep it open, there could be a wider field of candidates within four years or newly qualified people in the organisation who would by then be eligible to apply. It would be only fair to run another competition.
If I understood the Deputy correctly, he asked whether creating panels was best practice. In a situation in which it is difficult for client organisations to anticipate how many vacancies they will have over the course of 12 or 18 months, it is probably the most effective and efficient way of running competitions. There is a cost involved in filling every role and if it is known that there is likely to be a requirement to fill ten positions over 18 months, creating a panel of about 15 people is very effective. As I said, there is no guarantee that everybody will be appointed.
The Deputy is correct in his assessment. In the Public Appointments Service we handle so many contacts with such a large number of candidates that we are clearly dealing with the very many disappointed candidates who do not come through the process for one reason or another.
I will address the question of why we lose so many people through the process. Quite large numbers of candidates are applying for roles and given that we are just coming out of the moratorium, there is a pent-up demand. Very significant numbers of people applied for the Garda trainee competition and 28,000 people applied for the clerical officer competition in the Civil Service. Those competitions have attracted very large numbers of applicants. When it comes to graduate recruitment, we received perhaps 3,000 applications from people who want to join the Civil Service at administrative officer level. Those candidates are taken through a process of testing which includes testing in a supervised testing environment. Based on the number of jobs we will be required to fill in the next 12 to 18 months, we use very good predictive models to establish the number of people we would be required to interview to make a panel of 100 people. We ask how many would have to be interviewed and in order to interview that many people, how many people do we need to bring through to testing. That is how we work it. The main costs of our business are interviewing costs from putting together interview boards and organising testing. They are the main drivers of cost to our organisation.
The interview process involves merit and competency based interviews. We use a marking scheme which is agreed by the interview board in advance. Candidates can be marked out of ten or 20 for each competency which totals up to a certain number. There is generally a pass level set by the interview board with guidance from the Public Appointments Service for each particular competition. For the more senior level competitions, at principal officer level or equivalent across the Civil Service and public service, there are two rounds of interviews, rather than only one. For the general grades when we are dealing with larger volumes, we would have one competency based interview after which people would be placed on a panel in order of merit.
The Deputy asked about the Irish language. There are demands from clients to fill positions with people fluent in Irish. We refer to those people as functional linguists in Irish and English. In the last series of competitions for the Civil Service we administered the new process whereby instead of giving a standard percentage of marks to people who declared a competency in Irish we actually tested it. That has worked effectively to ensure we have a panel of bilingual people available for assignment. While a large number of people indicate on their application forms that they are bilingual and capable of transacting business in Irish, there is a significant fall-off once we try to process those people. There was a significant reduction in numbers for the Garda Síochána trainee, clerical officer and executive officer competitions. We have successfully put in place panels of Irish speakers for the Garda trainee competition and in the more recent clerical officer and executive officer competitions. We are currently working on that for assistant principal officer roles and we also have functional linguists at principal officer grade.
I welcome our visitors. Ms Tierney spoke about civil servants, public servants and the State funded bodies. I presume, other than the commercial bodies, the Public Appointments Service also deals with State-sponsored bodies.
Ms Fiona Tierney:
Our core work is focused on the Civil Service, local government, senior levels in the HSE and the Garda Síochána trainee competition. More recently we have recruited for the most senior level appointments in the Garda Síochána as well. We recruit for medical consultants and professional and technical grades across a range of different organisations. There is legislative provision for us to recruit the most senior levels in some of the regulatory bodies. Where we have capacity and can organise ourselves to do so, we will recruit for the most senior level position in some of the non-commercial State bodies. We have done that over the last two years. It is very much determined by our availability.
Ms Fiona Tierney:
I misunderstood the Deputy. We run a separate website, stateboards.ie, which is entirely different from the recruitment process. Since November 2014, we have been asked to take on board this particular role. We advertise the vacancies on State boards through a booklet setting out the board, what the vacancies involve, how many there are, the preferred type of candidate and the skills they should possess. It is not the same as recruitment. The applications are taken in online and reviewed by a panel of people we put together. The purpose of the review is to assess whether the applications meet the criteria set out in the booklet. It is not an interview. It can be but it is not a competitive process. The names that meet the selection criteria are then passed on to the relevant Minister for appointment.
Ms Tierney mentioned that in general the lifetime of a panel is 12 months and that a similar position exists in Northern Ireland. Does she have any information about the process in other countries in the European Union? How would the Public Appointments Service go about extending or closing the panel? As public representatives, we often hear about issues concerning further medical exams. In the case of recruitment of trainee gardaí and other similar positions, is that a situation in which a panel would be extended? Is there a cut-off point for those type of situations? I presume there is.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh mentioned the Irish language. My understanding from replies to questions to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is that 10% of the Civil Service deal with questions from people who use the Irish language. Is that part of the remit of the Public Appointments Service? Is it something clients would look for in terms of recruitment?
Ms Fiona Tierney:
I will reply to the Deputy's questions in order. In terms of the practice in other European countries, to my knowledge, the recruitment services in England follow the same process of having panels of appointment to various different bodies. I can check the situation in Scotland and Wales for the Deputy, if he is interested.
The issue of extending or closing panels does not generally arise. A panel can be exhausted because we have been good at determining how many vacancies there will be and having that number of people on the panel, so within 18 months all those vacancies will be filled. Everybody will be gone from the panel. It could also be because, as Deputy Kirk mentioned earlier, some external events occur and the panel, effectively, becomes closed because we are not recruiting any more. There could also be an area where there is a particular demand for specialist skills. For example, we have had lots of requests for accountants across public service bodies. We will recruit and place people on a panel and wait for the sanctioned vacancies to become available. If, after an 18-month period, there are still people on the panel and we have not had requests to fill vacancies, we would ask if the panel is moving and look at our workload, the demands for the client and what is happening in the general environment. We would consider whether there had been other competitions in a similar area that would offer people an opportunity to join the public service and make an assessment on when to run a new competition. That is generally what happens.
The question of extending a panel does not really arise. We do not use the language of saying the panel is closed. It can be misconstrued by clients when we might advise them that given the last time a competition was held was two years ago, there might be more people in the market who would be interested in applying or qualified for this panel, it might be time to move on and have a new competition. We do not generally use language like "it is closed".
I was asked about medical tests. For many positions in the Civil Service and public service, once candidates are on a panel, they have met all the selection criteria. They then have to go through what I referred to in my statement as the clearance process, including checking current employer references, doing Garda vetting and completing a medical test. That process with the Garda Síochána is handled by it. We would pass through the names of the assigned trainees and the Garda Síochána would organise their medical tests. The same applies for consultant positions with the HSE. We transmit the names to the HSE and it runs that area of clearance in doing the medical tests.
If a panel is to be reopened, would the Public Appointments Service approach the client or would the client contact the Public Appointments Service? Is the interview board involved? How does that work? I know Ms Tierney said the Public Appointments Service might not reopen it anyway but what would happen if it were to?
Ms Fiona Tierney:
We operate a panel as follows. An assignment is made based on the client contacting the Public Appointments Service. The panel is confidential. The client should not know who is next on the panel or anything like that. The client would advise us that it has another vacancy because someone has left, retired or whatever it might be and ask us to put the next person in the clearance process. That is what we do.
What Ms Tierney has said is very interesting. I will pick up on the Gaeilge because it is an area of particular interest. Of the 127 people in the Public Appointments Service, how many are functional linguists?
Ms Fiona Tierney:
We probably have ten people who are very active in the Irish language and would help us in running assessment processes and would help us in engaging with candidates. We probably have another ten people who are capable of speaking Irish but tend not to want to use it on a daily basis.
Who stipulates which jobs? As part of the review of the 20-year strategy of the Official Languages Act, all Departments were asked which posts were eligible for these functional linguists. Some Departments advised that none of the posts in their Departments had any need for a functional linguist. Who determines that? Does the Department approach the Public Appointments Service with a shopping list outlining the jobs it has on offer and the criteria or does the Public Appointments Service have an input into those criteria?
Ms Fiona Tierney:
It is an interesting question. We have an input into the selection criteria where we are designing the function of the job, not the language in which the job will be transacted. I am making a differentiation there. The client Department or agency would advise us of a requirement for a principal officer, for example, who needs to be able to transact business in Irish as well as in English.
That is a separate issue. That is an issue that has been through the courts recently. A Department may decide it wants, to put it crudely, new blood in the system. It might feel it has an ageing cohort working in the system and it might like for some reason to have younger people. Can it stipulate that?
Ms Fiona Tierney:
No. This is really important and perhaps I should have emphasised it more. The advertisements on publicjobs.ie and in newspapers will specify that we adhere to all the nine grounds of the Equality Act. We do not differentiate on the grounds of gender, age, nationality or anything else. We are blind to age in our office. When a client Department or agency approaches us to fill a role, age has nothing to do with the assignment process.
Ms Fiona Tierney:
It actually does not come up. Clients want people who are capable of doing the job. Notwithstanding all that - the Senator can look at it - we have an ageing population in our office. We reduced numbers very significantly during the moratorium. In the past two years, we have had permission to take on some new people. Most of the people who are coming through in appointments from the panels that now exist for Civil Service are quite a bit younger than I am. We would say it brought great energy and new views into the office - different tastes in music and everything else. Having a constant flow of people coming through revitalises and creates energy.
The types of qualifications and degrees people have might have changed. Obviously, the Public Appointments Service will not discriminate against someone on the basis of age. If a Department were to define a relatively newly introduced qualification as a prerequisite for the job, would that be seen as being discriminatory against somebody who might have considerable experience in an area but not the relevant new degree in that area?
Ms Fiona Tierney:
It is hard to think of a specific example where that might have arisen. However, we are very careful to ensure that we do not create any barriers to entry for applicants for any competition. Obviously, there are professions and careers that have really only emerged in the past ten years, including digital media, online marketing, etc. The qualifications are available through open participation in any of the universities or ITs around the country. There is no age ban on people taking those courses. If a client is looking for a particular skill set and an individual has completed the course, age would not really come into it once they have the necessary skills. I do not believe the educational qualification piece would act as a barrier against particular age.
Ms Tierney is probably aware of the huge issue around gender in third level institutions. Is a gender quota ever imposed to increase, mainly, the number of women in some positions where it is found that there is an imbalance in the gender representation?
Ms Fiona Tierney:
It is not my area of expertise and it is not our area of responsibility other than to ensure there is no discrimination on the grounds of gender on any of the recruitment or promotion competitions we run. In the Public Appointments Service, we take an active view of the percentage of applications coming from the different genders, how they progress through the recruitment process and what ultimately emerges with the appointments to ensure there is consistency throughout the process and that nothing is discriminating against people as we go.
That said, publicly available information on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform website indicates that in the Civil Service, entry level grades are predominantly female and the most senior level grades are predominantly male. We have participation across various cross-functional working groups in the Civil Service to see how we can increase female participation rates in competitions for promotion. Most of those competitions are now open competitions. We are seeking ways to encourage women to put themselves forward for the more senior level positions.
Similarly, we are working in co-ordination with the Garda Síochána in terms of the more recently advertised campaign for recruitment as garda trainees to encourage women to apply because only one in four of the applications the last time around for the Garda Síochána came from women. It is keen for people of both genders and every nationality to apply.
If an imbalance was noticed at principal officer grade with, for example, 70% male and 30% female, and the Government decided it wanted to introduce quotas because it felt there was an imbalance and it was structural, is it legally possible to do that?
Ms Fiona Tierney:
I do not think so. There would be a conflict in what we are being asked to do. Under the Acts and the Equality Acts, we cannot discriminate on the basis of gender in what we do. However, we can set a target and have proactive campaigns and this has worked quite well. In the mid-2000s - do not hold me to the date - there was a concerted effort to encourage women to apply for managerial grades in the Civil Service because there is quite a level of disparity. We were very pleased to see the female participation rate and the results in recent AP competitions, where it is 50-50, which is very encouraging. At this point in time, 36% of the principal officer grade in the Civil Service is female.
Ms Fiona Tierney:
I do not know if I would use the word "prerequisite" but we advertise vacancies on a regional basis. When we ran the clerical officer competition for the Civil Service, for example, we set out nine different regions for which people could indicate a preference. We then approached them and said we have a job in, for example, Killarney and asked them if they were interested because they are on the panel for that region. Does this answer the question?
Ms Fiona Tierney:
We do not do that work for the HSE so, unfortunately, I cannot help the Senator with this.
Candidates waiting on a panel might be unemployed and considering employment prospects, including emigrating for a period of time. Does the office give advice on a person's position on a panel, the realistic prospect of recruitment or advice that other options should be considered? What is the appeals process for somebody dissatisfied with decisions taken or not taken?
Ms Fiona Tierney:
Advice is a very dangerous ground to get into. When we deal with this volume of applications and this number of candidates, our people are loath to give advice to anybody. They will give them facts and will try to be as helpful as they can. Sometimes they are overly helpful and get themselves in trouble. Generally, they state the person's position on the panel and the number of positions which have been filled. We do not really have an indication of what is likely to come down the pipe over the remaining period. We try to be as helpful as we can to the candidate. Many of our staff have sat on panels themselves so they know exactly what it feels like.
Appeals relate broadly to the recruitment process itself. The appeal process is set out by the Commission for Public Service Appointments in various codes of practice. At any stage of a process, candidates can contact us and ask for information. They can ask for an informal appeal. If candidates who went for an interview did not like the result, or the outcome was not what they expected, they can ask for an informal review and will receive their marks and feedback and are told how they performed. If they are not content with this, they can have a formal review, which means somebody in the office unassociated with anything to do with the competition will get the papers and the file and go through it in some detail. The person might well speak to the interview board and the candidate, if required. The person will review all of the paperwork and measure what the candidate is saying against what our standard practices are for a free, fair, open and merit-based recruitment process. The person will make an assessment and judge on this formal appeal. If it goes the candidate's way, so to speak, he or she could either go through to the next stage of the competition or be placed on a panel, whatever it might be. This is under a section 7 appeal, which relates to the candidate's own performance in a process. There is also a section 8 appeal if a candidate feels the Public Appointments Service is not holding the recruitment process in accordance with the codes of practice. The person might say it was not done on the basis of merit or it was not fair or transparent, whatever it might be. In this case, the same process applies, with the difference that if a candidate is not happy with the result of a formal appeal he or she can appeal to the Commission for Public Service Appointments, which will review the appeal and may audit all of the files and issue a report on it. I hope this answers the Deputy's question.
Ms Fiona Tierney:
The Public Appointments Service has an independently appointed board to which I report. The purpose of the board is to oversee the work of the office and guide and advise me on how we do things. The board meets approximately ten times a year and it is given an update on all the operational activities of the office at each board meeting. I would not like to mislead the committee; the board does not sit down and look at what panels are open and for how long. The executive management team of the office has this as part of its responsibility. This is what is done on an infrequent but periodic basis by the management team of the office.
Ms Fiona Tierney:
As I explained earlier, we do not ever really close a panel. The board does not get involved in the operational activity. If, after 12 or 18 months since a competition when there has not been a demand to fill any vacancies, somebody comes along who wants to fill two vacancies from the panel, the executive management team and the recruitment team would make a decision as to whether it was appropriate to run a new competition rather than appoint again from the panel. By virtue of running a new competition the old panel expires.
Obviously, not everybody on a panel will get a job in the public service or the Civil Service, but has Ms Tierney come across situations where persons on a panel have hopes but a new competition is run for new panellists? Has a complaint ever been made because people thought they had a chance but the creation of a whole new panel dashed their hopes? Has this ever been brought to Ms Tierney's attention as an issue?
Ms Fiona Tierney:
In general, there is fairly widespread knowledge and acceptance by people who are in the public service that panels exist for 12 to 18 months and they will be superseded. To my personal knowledge, I have had one situation where an individual contacted me concerning a panel and the person's place on it. Ms McCabe heads up recruitment, so perhaps she can help the committee on this.
I will rephrase the question. It is not that a person has an expectancy that he or she would get a job, it is that the person was on a panel. For argument's sake, let us say there were 200 people on a panel for a particular type of job in the public service, and without the knowledge or understanding of those on the panel, an invitation is issued for people to come onto a new panel.
Thereafter, without their knowledge or understanding, a new invitation is issued for people to come on to a new panel. Has the Public Appointments Service, PAS, ever had frustration conveyed to it about this? I refer to how people thought they were within a grouping but then a whole new-----
I have listened to all the witnesses' answers and in fairness, it has been an authoritative contribution throughout. However, I am unsure whether I received an answer with regard to the scenario in which a citizen has applied for a position in the public service and has been informed he or she is on a panel. Is one instructed clearly when the nature of that panel changes? I would imagine that is a right, out of respect for that person. When somebody applies for a job, we ask the employer to write back in a letter of explanation. It really pertains to information and communication as much as anything else.
Ms Fiona Tierney:
Yes, the Chairman has made a helpful point because, at present, it is not our practice to communicate with people who remain on panels to state the Public Appointments Service now has received a request to run a new competition and will be conducting it at whatever time. That is a process improvement we potentially could consider putting in place. It is not part of our current practice and it would be disappointing for us to think many people were not aware of how the process operates. Clearly, however, the Chairman has knowledge of some.
This issue came through as a petition. While the joint committee does not address specific cases, members thought there was a general case. In addition, through my own role as a public representative, I have had concern expressed regarding people's sense that the framework under which they were operating in hope had changed. Obviously, nobody can have expectancy in this regard, as a panel is a possibility and cannot be an expectancy. That is all I wished to convey and I appreciate the response from Ms Tierney that she will consider the issue.
Ms Fiona Tierney:
Yes, from every aspect. The labour market will be tighter and it will be ever more competitive for us to hire talent. Consequently, as best as we possibly can, within the resource constraints we have, we wish to manage our candidates with respect. Given the volume of people we disappoint, if one likes, we do not want them to go away thinking they will never apply again for a job in the public service, that they were badly treated or whatever it might be. Consequently, we would be very happy to consider that.